The shutdown of L.A.'s marquee professional sports teams in the shadow of the new coronavirus is bad news for Jenna Lawrence Rodriguez and her co-workers at Paxti’s Pizza.
The restaurant, on South Figueroa just down the street from the L.A. Live complex and Staples Center, home to the Lakers and Clippers basketball teams and Kings hockey team, usually fills up for lunch. But on Thursday around 12:30 p.m. — a day after the National Basketball Assn. suspended its regular season, and the same day the National Hockey League did the same — it was nearly empty, with a handful of customers at just two tables.
Rodriguez, general manager at Paxti’s since it opened in November, has been in continual discussion with her boss. The restaurant staff will face layoffs; she’s just waiting to hear how many.
“I’m sure every other business around here is experiencing this. We are all reliant on the sports and concerts happening here,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. Our employees are afraid of losing their jobs.”
The multibillion-dollar complex along the 110 Freeway, between Olympic Boulevard and the Los Angeles Convention Center, has been one of the engines driving the 20-year economic renaissance of downtown L.A. Events have been held there almost every day, typically for thousands of visitors at a time.
The Staples arena — completed in 1999 at a cost of $375 million — is home to four professional sports teams: the Lakers, Clippers and Sparks basketball teams and the Kings hockey team. Few similar arenas are home to more than one or two teams.
Reported gate receipts for the last two years suggest that the Lakers gross about $2.5 million per game in ticket sales.
L.A. Live, which cost $2.5 billion to build and opened in phases in the mid-2000s, draws large crowds of sports and music fans and convention attendees looking for fun. The complex has movie theaters, concert venues, nightclubs, offices, restaurants and hotels, including a J.W. Marriott and a Ritz-Carlton.
The Grammy Museum is there and the music industry’s annual Grammy Awards were held at Staples Center in January.
Another Marriott-branded hotel complex was added across Olympic Boulevard in 2014. Now AEG, the owner of Staples Center and L.A. Live, is working on a $1.2-billion public-private project that will expand the convention center and add 850 hotel rooms within the next few years.
On Thursday, AEG and Live Nation Entertainment, two concert promotion giants, suspended all touring activities.
Asked whether AEG has plans to help ushers, vendors and others who will lose work because of the NBA and NHL seasons being put on hold, Chief Operating Officer Kelly Cheeseman said, “I can tell you that conversation is happening not only locally but I think across the nation.”
Cheeseman said he couldn’t be more specific yet because circumstances have been changing rapidly since the NBA announced Wednesday night that it would suspend play. “I think it’s fair to say, not only for our business but any businesses impacted by this, that it’s a seismic impact,” he said.
On Thursday, Unite Here Local 11, the union that represents 5,600 game-day workers at Staples and other L.A. and Orange County sports venues, asked pro teams to pay workers while games are suspended.
“Our members are on the front line of not just the threat of exposure to the coronavirus, but they also are on the front line of the potential economic downturn,” Susan Minato, Local 11 co-president, said in a statement. “We need to stand by them, just like they stand by their teams.”
Fans are usually crowding the high-top tables of the Yard House, a dimly lit sports bar at L.A. Live. On Thursday, hostess Viviana Duenas, 24, wiped down menus and pointed to a staff list on a black clipboard. A large X was drawn with black marker through roughly a dozen names.
Duenas said at least four hosts had their hours canceled Thursday, and that doesn’t include servers and kitchen staff who are losing hours and pay. Her own schedule has been reduced from six days a week to three. “No sports, no Lakers, no Clippers, no concerts,” she said.
Events at the convention center have been canceled until at least the end of March, said Doane Liu, executive director of the city’s Department of Convention & Tourism Development. Among the planned events was a large-scale naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens.
Duenas knows a few workers at the convention center. “I haven’t spoken to any of them since the shutdown, but I imagine they don’t have work because there’s nothing to do,” she said. “It’s super sad. I can’t imagine what their families are going through.”
Duenas said she can fall back on two other two jobs: Pizza Hut and driving for Lyft. Her Pizza Hut hours haven’t been cut yet; she thinks that’s because people are staying in and ordering pizza.
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“It’s putting so many people through economic hardship. But people have to understand the risk of us infecting one another,” Duenas said. Whereas the staff used to wipe menus once in the morning and once at night, now it’s after every use. “We are wiping everything down every chance we get.”
Rodriguez was hoping Paxti’s would also be cushioned by to-go orders. So far, that hasn’t been the case, she said. Business on Wednesday was down 60% to 70%.
As she walked around the L.A. Live courtyard, Rodriguez was shocked.
“It was totally empty. That’s unheard of for L.A. Live,” she said.
She understands the worry: People travel from all over to visit this area. Her own daughter is in the hospital for a respiratory infection. “The situation is more serious than people think it is,” she said.